Insider newsletter: Thinking about the “cat” economy…

The common raven. As it turns out, it’s *way smarter* than your dog. Who knew?

I’ve decided to publish these emails on my blog as well. If you sign up (please do!), I’ll send these to you first!

I have a few things to get out of the way before we get started.

First, I know I promised I would get these emails out about once a month. It’s been two months, and the good folks at Zymplify (my marketing automation platform partner) needed to help me remember. You’d think I’d set up a Google Alert or something. No excuses, though. I’m really sorry.

Second, things are going quite well on the “make Jason into a serviceable author” front. Chris Kepner (my agent) has been working on getting my proposals in front of the big publishing houses and their innumerable “imprints”. An imprint is sort of like “Honey Nut Cheerios” to the main “Cheerios” brand. Different target market of books they like to publish, but the same big company. I would have had no clue where to start. Thanks Chris!

Third, I thought it would be fun to take a fiction class as the Loft Literary Center. I also through “Flash Fiction” would be the easiest to fit into a busy schedule because the word count was *no greater than* 500 words per story. Heck, I think this email will be more than 500 words, so how hard could it be? It turns out, really hard. What did Mark Twain once say? “If I had more time, I’d write you a shorter letter.” It’s been fun nonetheless. If you’re interested, email me at and I’ll send you a few. They’re short. (Duh.)

Okay, now that I’ve apologized, caught you up to date, and embarrassed myself as a writer, let’s have some fun.

I love dinosaurs. Really, ever since I was a little kid, I couldn’t get enough of them! (I am a child of the 1980s, so Jurassic Park was well in the future.) Recently, I’ve been reading Steve Brusatte’s “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” – a narrative adventure written in an approachable, yet thoroughly scientific, style. One of the chapters took a bit of a sidebar, exploring the latest evidence around the question: How smart were dinosaurs?

When I was growing up, the opinion of dinosaurs as slow, dim-witted evolutionary mistakes was just in the process of being overturned. Jurassic Park helped dramatize their cunning even further…but that’s fiction, right? Perhaps not so much.

Below is a table of the Encephalization quotient (EQ) of a variety of animal species. It’s a roughly accepted guide to “how smart” an animal is based on the ratio of brain to body. It’s not perfect, but it holds up pretty well:

Species EQ
Human 7.44
Dolphin 5.31
Chimpanzee 2.49
Raven 2.49
Rhesus monkey 2.09
Elephant 1.87
Baleen whale 1.76
Dog 1.17
Cat 1.00
Horse 0.86
Sheep 0.81
Mouse 0.50
Rat 0.40
Rabbit 0.40

A couple of things jump out, don’t they? Dolphins are *way smarter* than chimps! Like, holy crap smart! And way smarter than both dogs or cats. Ravens are smart, too. Who knew the huge black bird crowing outside your window could kick your dog’s ass at a game of chess? (Parrots aren’t on this list, but they’re just above ravens.)

Here’s the kicker: Tyrannosaurs (the evolutionary forebears of birds) clock in with an EQ in the 2.5-3.0 range. Holy shit! That’s terrifying! Raptors and Troodons (even closer cousins of birds) could approach dolphin territory. It looks like the Jurassic Park folks weren’t that far off on their depictions, were they?

Obviously, there’s no way to know for sure, but I couldn’t help but let my mind wander a bit more. I’m a marketing guy … and it’s dangerous to give our kind any amount of information. So. Be warned. What follows could get bizarre.

If these animals are so smart, could they be consumers?

Could there be a “cat” economy”? Dogs? Dolphins? I’m not talking about humans buying things for dogs (I live in Northeast Minneapolis; dogs already control half my building). I’m talking about dogs deciding for themselves what they want … and buying it.

It may seem far fetched, but there are examples of monkeys learning to use money in the laboratory. Funny story: At first, they used money to exchange for food. Then, well, things got “freaky” and monkeys spontaneously invented the world’s second oldest profession. Yikes. The researchers pulled the plug on that experiment soon (but not immediately) after.

It seems to me the only thing standing in the way is a “market” in which animals could create value and then exchange it for goods and services. Could ravens learn to collect coins people drop in theme parks and trade them for snacks? (Monkeys do it on the temple grounds of southeast Asia today.)

As a marketing person, this is a complete greenfield opportunity. Dogs and cats are obvious, but what about monkeys, dolphins, birds, or pigs (very smart as well)? What if “consumers” are not only “humans”? What then?

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a book project along these lines. What do you guys think?

Jason T Voiovich

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